Thursday, February 3, 2011

Martha's Mac and Cheese, Take 2

Last night, in the middle of yet another snow storm, I wanted to come home and have easy comfort food, and I had the perfect dish in mind - Mac and Cheese.  This is not any old mac and cheese, but rather, Martha's favorite Mac and Cheese.  Even more, I attempted to make this for Nick the second time I made dinner for him when we first started dating, and lets just say it was not a complete success.  I had a number of issues, the main one being that I did not have a pan large enough for the cheese sauce, which resulted in my having to use two pans and the sauce never thickening.  Luckily it was mac and cheese, and as long as you have noodles and cheese it will come out of the oven tasting OK.  So, I was ready to give this recipe a go again.  This time was way better!

Good enough to eat!
The necessities...

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish

6 slices good white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces

5 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

4 1/2 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese (about 18 ounces)

2 cups grated Gruyere cheese (about 8 ounces) or 1 1/4 cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 5 ounces)

1 pound elbow macaroni

Having done this before, I knew I wanted to get as many things prepped before the real cooking began.  As Savenor's did not sell regular white bread, I got a thicker french bread loaf and cut/pulled it into quarter to half inch pieces. When the bread was prepped, I placed it in a bowl and poured 2 tablespoons of melted butter over top, tossed it all together and set it aside.

Ready for bread crumb topping
I actually think using this loaf was a good thing.  The bread was fresh and tasty...perfect for a mac and cheese topping.  The other big prep time suck was partly my fault: I hand grated the almost 5 cups of Cheddar and 2 cups of Gruyere.

A LOT of cheese
As you can see in the picture above, it was a mound of cheese, but since I am of the belief that cheese makes everything better, I grated a bit more than necessary.  The first time around I did not have a box grater, so I tried using my blender to grate the cheese.  Naturally, this did not turn out well, especially with a cheese like Cheddar.  When Nick suggested using the food processor I got a little nervous that it would end in a similar mess so I stuck with the hand grating.  However, having spent 20 minutes grating cheese I would definitely recommend either buying pre-grated cheese or using a food processor!

Having prepared the "hard stuff" I set to work actually cooking.  I heated the milk in a saucepan, but when I went to pour the 5-1/2 cups of milk, I realized that I was about a cup short, so I used up the rest of the half and half I had on hand.  Meanwhile, in the largest pan I had (the 11 inch one) I melted the remaining tablespoons of butter, and when it started to bubble I added the flour and stirred it together.

Flour and butter mixture
After about a minute I began to add the hot milk while whisking constantly.  Once it was all added I continued to whisk until the mixture becomes thick.  When I made this the first time around this actually never thickened, so I was super excited when it actually came together - I couldn't believe it!  However, it did take a bit of time, at least 5 minutes of whisking.  At that point I removed the pan from the heat and added the salt, nutmeg, cayenne pepper and black pepper.  I did add a little extra cayenne but I learned a little cayenne does go a LONG way, so really no need to add that much extra, even if you like things super spicy.

It thickened!!
Once all the spices were blended together (and there were no clumps for Nick to bite down on) I added a bit more than half of the Cheddar and most of the Gruyere to the sauce.

Mixing in the cheese (lots of it!)
I continued to stir the cheese mixture until the cheeses completely melted.  In the meantime, I had cooked the pasta - about 2 or 3 minutes less than the recommended cooking time.  When it was cooked I drained the water and rinsed the pasta with cold water and put it back in the pot.  I then added the cheese sauce to the pasta and stirred it up until it was all mixed together, and then poured it into a buttered 3-quart casserole dish.  I sprinkled the remaining cheeses on top of the pasta as well as the bread crumbs prepared earlier.

Ready for the oven
I slid the dish into the 375 degree oven and let it cook for 30 minutes.  I actually let it go for a few minutes extra so that the bread crumbs browned nicely to add a bit of crunch and texture. 

Nicely toasted
Waiting for this to cool the recommended 5 minutes was very difficult because the dish smelled amazing and was just bubbling with deliciousness!

Close up on the mac and cheese
The results this time around were perfection, especially during the snowpocolyspe!  This and some red wine made for a great night in.  I was so happy to have nailed this dish and done Martha proud (I hope!)  I would highly recommend this mac and cheese recipe to anyone.  I think you can really make it your own by adding some ground mustard in addition to or instead of the cayenne.  Also, you can add some sort of protein, i.e. ham or bacon, or some sliced tomatoes if you are attempting a meatless Monday!

Sometimes healthy needs to go out the window, and this is a great reason to do it.


  1. LOVE mac and cheese. This looks great! It's so perfect for a gross wintery week!

  2. Wow, that really is a lot of cheese! Just added this to the Boston Food Bloggers mac & cheese recipe index: :)


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